How to Develop “Mentally Tough” Players With Geno Auriemma

By Don Kelbick

Mental toughness, what is it? Aside from being probably the most overused phrase in coaching, can anyone really describe it? I am not sure you can. I have been coaching for a long time and I can’t figure it out.

I get very concerned when people use some traditional terminology without examining its meaning. Too many times, I have seen coaches torturing players in the name of building mental toughness. They take the fun out of the game, wear down their players then blame them when things don’t go right. I would like to give you another way to look at mental toughness.

Confident players are mentally tough. Players who believe they will attain success in the end regardless of what they go through on the journey are mentally tough. These players are bred of success. There can be no understating the benefits of experiencing success. Putting your players in the position where they can experience success will pay dividends.

I was really struck by some comments that were made by members of the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball Team, after they won their most recent championship. I don’t normally watch a lot of women’s basketball. There is nothing wrong with it but they play a different game and I really don’t like it. But, UConn is different. At the time, I was speaking to a good friend who is an assistant for a Div. I women’s team so I thought it was appropriate to watch. In case you missed it, UConn scored 12 points in the first half. That is the lowest point total in a half in the history of the women’s Div. I championship playoffs. It seems to be ironic when the best team in history turns in the lowest scoring half in history. After they came back to win the game, I watched the player interviews afterward. A lot of the questions centered on the first half and how they turned it around. To a player, they all said they were unconcerned because their coach, Gino Auriemma, creates an atmosphere of success no matter where they go. They all said that he convinces them that if they continue to do the right things, regardless of the situation, they will come out successful. He is a tough, demand coach but there is never a time where he makes them feel that they can’t accomplish what he asks. Everything in their program revolves around the belief that they can be successful. Philosophy, basketball drills, game plan, etc, all center on rewards of success and not penalties of failure. They always want to make the next play.

We should all learn from that. If you want to build mental toughness, the foundation is success. Reward, don’t punish. Catch players doing the right thing as opposed to jumping on them for the wrong thing. Teach them to crave success, not fear failure.

It shows on the court. That is coaching. That is mental toughness.

Building Team Mental Toughness – Are You Doing This?

By Joe Haefner

Use this great rule for your team that I picked up from Alan Stein:

Do not allow players to bend over and put their hands on their knees when they’re tired. If so, discipline with some conditioning.

Have you ever tried this when you’re tired? It’s tough, and it’s supposed to be. This little intangible will help tremendously in building your team’s mental toughness.

Not to mention, it messes with the opposing team’s psyche if you never look like you’re tired.